case study

Pizza Express and the award-winning talent strategy


Does management really understand employees’ needs? Anecdotal feedback is one thing, but to really put ‘your finger on the pulse’ of the organization there’s nothing quite like an in-depth, anonymous external employee survey, particularly when times are tough.

David Hogg, Director – Business Support at Pizza Express Hong Kong, was pretty confident their management team was in touch with their employees. But just to be sure, they conducted an employee feedback program that measures a thriving workplace from the perspectives of an organization, its workforce, and the individual employees.

This story is about the success of the Pizza Express talent strategy, which resulted in their early 2019 award winning survey results and demonstrated their commitment towards creating a healthy and thriving workplace.

Keeping employees safe and happy through pizza in challenging times

With the turmoil currently facing Hong Kong-based businesses it was important for Pizza Express to keep serving their customers, and keep helping their employees to do so in the midst of turbulence. “Even now, if I look at what’s been happening in our business over the last six months in HK with the protest, money has never been at the heart of it. Right now the business is about keeping our people safe and employed in a difficult time. The mission for Pizza Express at the moment is ‘a world made happier by pizza’ – and it has been for many, many years,” says David Hogg.

He goes on to say that while money is important to any business, he gets the feeling that, “the purpose of this business is to just be around. It’s the provider of pizza, jobs, money for charities – it’s not like any one thing is more important.”

He goes on to say that while money is important to any business, he gets the feeling that, “the purpose of this business is to just be around. It’s the provider of pizza, jobs, money for charities – it’s not like any one thing is more important.”

When asked if the survey results resonated with the reason for why they’re in business he said, “I know that our restaurant staff just want to provide a good experience for guests. That’s why they come to work every day.” The survey confirmed this.

Building a healthier workplace begins with benchmarking

How do humans and workplaces do more than just work: how do they thrive at work? This is the question that the Thrive45 Employee Feedback Program seeks to answer. Thriving organizations are resilient, agile and create a positive societal impact – but that has to start with leadership and culture. Often enough, a thriving organization also translates into a thriving business. This concept resonates deeply with David who says, “When we decided to do the survey we knew there were opportunities that the survey would help us with.” This was the first time that Pizza Express Hong Kong had launched an employee survey: which went smoothly and successfully. As David puts it, “The reason we did it in the first place was for confirmation, validation and the areas of improvement”. But what he didn’t realize was quite how highly their employees thought of them, despite (or perhaps, because of) the way they were coping with the uncertain times facing their country.

Survey results often deliver surprises

The big surprise for Pizza Express from the Thrive45 survey was how good their employees actually thought the company is. “We were surprised at how strong our inclusivity was. We knew it was good – you just need to walk into one of our restaurants to see that – but we were surprised by how strongly this came across.” Similarly, the results associated with the ‘compelling careers’ section of the survey was also a pleasant surprise. “This was excellent!” says David. “That was what then led me on to get the confidence to submit the case for the HKMA awards. I knew at that point that we had something quite good.”

The results of the Mercer survey inspired and reassured David to continue to invest in their people development, and reward employees for quality work, rather than tie rewards purely to sales performance. This also translated into committing themselves to invest resources and a lot of David’s time to enter the HKMA awards – and it was worth it.

Award-winners twice over

Not only did Pizza Express walked away with the Best Stakeholder Engagement award at the Excellence in Training and Development 2019 HKMA Awards, they were also awarded a Thrive45 award from Mercer.

How They Did it: The Mercer Thrive45 Survey

The employee survey known as Thrive45 is a collection of 45 questions that are easy for employees to answer and provide a thorough, in-depth, easily digestible response that can then be drilled down in more depth to investigate deeper issues. Leveraging the power of technology, the questionnaire allows for a prompt response and thorough feedback. Mercer was able to deliver initial results that were so valuable to Pizza Express that they committed to paying more for further, in-depth research.

This is what Pizza Express took away, as a result of the survey.

  • Knowing how inclusive the work culture is: “It was quite interesting to see that the way we manage our business really is the way it’s managed. That was the aha moment. You kind of hope that you’re collaborative, inclusive, that people feel like they can come and talk to you and give you their opinions but you never quite know. It was nice to see that that was really the case.”

  • Knowing that you’re in touch with your staff: “I think that the survey results were very, very good. And I think that they just confirmed what we already knew and it’s a really nice feeling to know, as a leader, that your feelings about where the business is are accurate – that you’re not out of touch.”

  • Confidence in your decision-making: “I think that if people are really clear about what they want to achieve there’s quite a lot of confidence that can come from knowing where your organization stands on these things: getting confirmation around what your business actually thinks and what it actually feels. The amount of confidence you can get is very, very helpful. It can help with every part of your decision making.” The research was used quite heavily for 2020 HR planning and their annual conference in January 2019.

  • BONUS: The information to participate in (and win) an award: In David Hogg’s own words, “I think that the Mercer survey gave us the confidence to participate in the HKMA award. Without it, it would have been touch and go.”



In essence, this case study demonstrates that the insights which can be gathered as a result of in-depth, anonymous external employee surveys do more than provide valuable information for businesses. Not only can surveys confirm or negate assumptions, they can also provide a solid foundation for improvement in some areas and congratulations in others.

Arguably more importantly: the results of surveys like this remind employees, managers and leaders alike about what is important to the business. In this case the Mercer survey was a powerful confirmation that demonstrated how everyone at Pizza Express is living, and living up to, their philosophy every single day.

As David says, Pizza Express’s values are pride, loyalty, simplicity, family and winning. “But, really, it’s probably family and pride [that are most prevalent]. I think, as a business, that we are quite good at looking after each other. Everyone really shows a lot of pride in what we do. We want to make good food. Our Ops Director says, ‘I put more KPI weightings on the quality of the product than on the sales’. When you have people like that in charge who understand it’s about inputs, not about outputs… Your input is your people, your family, your product quality, your pride. The output is the performance and sales.”

The results of this focus are evident in both the business results and their survey results.

The awards won by Pizza Express demonstrate their solid commitment: to their people, to food, and to creating a positive experience for their customers. Pizza Express is determined to use this evidence to improve their brand standing as well as demonstrate that their food, their people and their passion are core to their vision of “a world made happier by pizza”, and Mercer is proud to have helped them gather these insights.

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